Monday, April 25, 2016
Back in the day when I was a budding novelist dying to get an agent and get published, I was always looking for the ANSWER. What did I need to do in order to write the best novel I could, the one that would finally get me an offer from an agent for representation and then get a book deal? What did I still have to learn? There had to be some secret that everyone else who’d gotten published (seemingly all my writer friends except me) seemed to know that I wasn’t privy to. Because I sure as hell wasn’t getting anywhere.
So I embarked on a journey of learning. Of critique groups, workshops, developmental editors, writing teachers, writers conferences, online networking, writing contests. And I read books on how to write fiction.
What a journey it’s been. By now I’m a published novelist. I have an MFA in Creative Writing and teach classes on how to write novels. I have my own manuscript consultation practice where I help authors make their novels and memoirs become the best they can be, and some clients have even seen their publishing dreams come true. This past February I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference as a panelist and moderator of several panels about writing and editing. I also acted as a consultant, where attendees could make an 8-minute appointment with me to pick my brain about their query letter, pitch, opening to their novel—whatever they needed. Frankly, I’m thrilled to be at this stage of my wild and crazy journey and being able to help writers.
No, there is no magic ANSWER and there’s no shortcut to writing a good novel. But there is all kinds of help out there if you know where to look for it. And while books on writing aren’t a panacea and there are no perfect ones, they can really help and inspire you as well.
So here’s a list that I share with my students. Some of these books have helped me personally, and some I know have helped other writers. Some are strictly about the craft of fiction, while others serve the purpose to inspire. Check them out and see which might resonate with you.
The Making of A Story – Alice LaPlante (highly recommended)
Beginnings, Middles and Ends – Nancy Kress
Fiction First Aid – Raymond Obstfeld
The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors – Catherine Wald
Writing the Breakout Novel – Donald Maass
Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction – Stephen Koch (highly recommended)
Conflict and Suspense – by James Scott Bell
The Art of Fiction – John Gardner
The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile – Noah Lukeman
Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets Them Go – Les Edgerton
Writers Workshop in a Book: The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction – Edited by Alan Cheuse and Lisa Alvarez
Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life – Dani Shapiro
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott (highly recommended)
Revising and Self-Editing for Publication – James Scott Bell